When Congress Dropped the SOPA

13 Feb

On January 18th, the standard colorful Google emblem was covered by a black bar. The bar, that most would recognize as a form of censorship, linked to a Google page explaining the content and consequences of SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act.

SOPA was a piece of legislation proposed to the House of the Representative by Lamar S. Smith of Texas. The goal of the bill was to expand the reach of the Justice Department to better protect against online piracy and copyright infringement. A corresponding bill, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, was introduced in the Senate.


Google was one of the more than 150,000 websites that took part in the January 18 strike. Other notable sites…

  • The English language Wikipedia
  • Reedit
  • Firefox
  • Tumblr
  • WordPress.

Word of the controversial bill spread like wild fire on the day of the strike. There were over 2,200,000 tweets with the trending topic #sopa. There was a great deal of attention paid to the companies and websites opposing the legislation through the online strike.


A lesser discussed subject were the companies that maintained their support of SOPA. A few weeks before the strike, Neowin.net posted a three page Judiciary Committee document listing supporters of the bills. Included on this list:

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • Comcast/NBC Universal
  • The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, the people that rate movies)
  • Random House Publishing
  • Time Warner.

Many websites that opposed SOPA are nonetheless dedicated to eradicating their role in online piracy. YouTube.com, who’s parent company is Google, has a strict copyright infringement policy. Anytime the site is alerted of copyrighted material that has been posted, they investigate within a short window and remove illegal content.

Users who break the rule could have their account and face the possibility of being sued by the content’s rightful owner. Under SOPA, it is possible that every time one of these cases appears YouTube.com will be shut down temporarily and unable to police themselves.


On January 19, the day after the online strike, the Justice Department shut down the Chinese-based file sharing website Megaupload.com, leaving an ominous warning to it’s visitors. SOPA is limited to domestic policing of copyright law, whereas the corresponding PIPA will target primarily off-shore websites like the infamous Swedish .torrent website Thepiratebay.org.

Thepiratebay.org provides links and direct downloads of .torrent files that include thousands of copyright protected video, audio, and program files that can be downloaded through a bittorrent application. This process draws from multiple sources and locations making the download nearly impossible to track.


The goal of SOPA is to stop online piracy of copyrighted content. The fear of many online users and internet businesses is that this legislation will open a door into a new era of internet policing. In December of 2011, legendary computer programmer Vint Cerf wrote a letter to Representative Smith debating the legislation.

Cerf is currently a vice president at Google and calls himself one of the “founding fathers” of the internet due to his original role in its infrastructural design. Cerf argues that the initiative will jumpstart an international “arms war” of web censorship.


On January 20, representative Smith responded to the public outcry against SOPA and the drafting of the bill was suspended indefinitely. Smith made a statement on his website recognizing the concerns of the internet community and welcoming further input on the matter.


One Response to “When Congress Dropped the SOPA”

  1. stevejfox February 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Interesting approach — I liked the way you laid things out here.


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